Even with the success of the women’s liberation movement and the increase in the number of women in the work force, girls and boys are still educated by society to speak and act differently. When young boys swear and use tough language, their behavior is tolerated as normal for their age. We assume they are trying to act big. Grown men pepper their vocabulary with occasional profanity and it is acceptable. No corresponding freedom exists for women and little girls. Verbally and physically, female actions are expected to be more restrained than their male counterparts. This directly affects the communication skills of both females and males. At work, we often find ourselves at cross-purposes.
But whether male/female differences stem from genetic makeup, parental influence or cultural conditioning by society, the fact is we are different. We act differently. We speak differently. Men often assume a direct, forceful manner of communicating, while women typically acquire a quieter, more tentative, questioning approach. The result of these differing uses of language often leads to misunderstandings. John Gray, who has contributed much to our understanding of the communication styles of men and women, says that by accepting and validating these male and female differences, we can begin to close the communication gap.
The first step is to accept our differences. Different doesn’t mean wrong. Men tend to define themselves through their achievements. They like to handle things on their own. So at work, if a woman suggests to a man that he ask for help, he may think she believes he is inept or, worse, incompetent.
Women define who they are through the connectedness of their relationships and through feelings. Reverse the above situation, and the woman would not as likely take offense at the suggestion. Much of our business communication is based upon the interpretation of the male and female listener. Words are only as useful as the way they are heard.
The second step is to learn the rules of communication. We have rules for just about everything we do. When we engage in sports, we play by the rules; when we drive, we follow the rules of safe driving; when we play games, we play according to the rules. We even have the Golden Rule. Learn the rules that men follow when they communicate. Seek to understand the rules women also unconsciously follow for successful communication.
For communication between men and women to be effective, we must recognize the differences between male and female communication styles. Men and women, at home or in the workplace, whether speaking or listening, use communication methods designed to meet their primary communication needs.
|Men’s needs||Women’s needs|
|1. To feel accepted.||1. To feel validated.|
|2. To feel admired.||2. To feel respected.|
|3. To feel appreciated.||3. To feel understood.|
|4. To feel approved of.||4. To feel reassured.|
|5. To feel trusted.||5. To feel cared about.|
Kathy needs time off one afternoon this week for a doctor appointment. A lump was found that is concerning her. However, her fear of asking Tom for the time off is greater than her fear of what the doctor may discover. In the past Tom has pushed her aside whenever requests for personal time have been made, discrediting her needs as mere excuses to play hooky. She would like to think, as her employer, that Tom would be concerned about her health, but wonders just how much of her own anxiety she is free to share.
The most important way a man can improve his communication skills with a woman is by listening to her feelings. This may not be easy, because he is coming from a different perspective.
The first thing a man should do is to keep in mind how quickly unpleasant feelings can arise in a conversation he feels is going well. These feelings come from not listening with an understanding of the woman’s point of view. For good gender communication to take place, a man must start taking the responsibility for understanding the way women talk.
Don’t blame her for upsetting you. Her feelings are valid even if they don’t make sense to you right away. Before coming to conclusions, try to see the situation through her eyes. Keep in mind a woman’s primary communication needs and use your conversation to make her feel validated, respected and understood. Take the time to reassure her and let her know you care about what she is saying. Make her feel that you are listening to her and your communication will improve.
Sometimes males experience uncomfortable emotions because they do not know what to do to solve things. To improve business communications, men must learn to resist the urge to take the problem completely off a female counterpart’s shoulders. Don’t offer more solutions. Because women talk about problems does not mean they don’t know the solutions. Women want men to listen to them.
To have good communication with women, you don’t have to always agree with them. If you disagree, however, you’ll be better able to get your point across if you wait until they are finished talking. Men often try to talk over each other when they disagree. They raise their voices and interrupt each other. Women interpret these actions as power plays, and communication suffers.
Also, don’t pretend to understand when you don’t, and don’t automatically start defending yourself. You communicate better with women if you admit when you don’t understand. If you disagree and feel strongly about the issue, let women know that what they said is important to you. Then gently explain your point of view. If you make a mistake, especially when you have slighted her feelings, apologize. If you listen and acknowledge her feelings, you’ll close the gender gap and open the door to effective business communications.
David enjoys getting feedback from his fellow architect, Sharon. They are working together on designs for a new dental complex. Sharon is a good listener as David goes over the plans, nodding and giving him encouraging comments as he brainstorms ideas with her. Even though she has been with the firm two years longer than David, he never feels she is condescending toward him. Instead, she often tells him he is doing a great job. He notices even when they disagree on a concept, her suggestions for improvements seem to build on his own ideas rather than attack them. As a result, he is very open and eager to include her ideas as well.
Just as men have a problem with listening, women need to empower their male counterparts. Don’t ask him too many questions or he may feel you are prying, or tying to change him. He will either become defensive or agree with you for the moment to pacify you. When sharing feelings with a man, let him know you are not trying to tell him what to do.
Nowhere is the pause more practically or usefully applied than in gender communication. This gives the listener the opportunity to consider the speaker’s primary needs before responding. This is especially useful when a female asks a male for support or a favor. Allow the male to work through his resistance, even if he grumbles. As long as you remain silent you stand a good chance of getting what you asked for. Women have a tendency to break the silence with comments like, “Oh, never mind,” or “It’s not that important,” or “Don’t bother.”
Women also have a tendency to ask tag questions, with qualifiers. This makes their statements less powerful and believable. Women must learn to avoid saying things like, “That was the most moving speech I ever heard, don’t you think?” Adding “don’t you think?” makes the statement less powerful and makes you appear unsure of yourself.
Men often talk over women, or speak louder to get their point across. This makes women feel unevenly matched. Worse, it can be interpreted by women as a means of control. The soft-spoken, more tentative style common to women, however, can be wrongly interpreted as being uninformed or unsure.
Once you realize that men and women have different conversational styles, you can begin accepting differences without blaming or criticizing. Nothing hurts more than being told you’re doing something wrong when you know you are right, or feeling that others think your intentions are bad when you know they’re good. Our differences can enrich our lives and show us another dimension to business decisions that we would not know if we were all the same.